ST. PETERSBURG — Intrigue has been lacking this season on the Derby Lane version of Wheel of Fortune. Regardless of how the wheel spins, the mystery word often has been "M-C-A-L-L-I-S-T-E-R."
McAllister Kennels has dominated at Derby Lane, winning five of seven stakes with a huge edge in purse earnings. The operation, led by Malcolm and Barbara McAllister, has been just as strong nationally, winning every top greyhound award.
But as the Wheelmobile ends its search for game-show contestants today at the St. Petersburg track, many kennels believe they can contest McAllister in the $100,000 Distance Classic, the richest stakes of the meet.
The first of four qualifying rounds begins tonight in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10.
"McAllister has been out of this world," racing secretary Jerry Miller said. "But he's lost a couple of dogs to other tracks recently; it's brought a more competitive balance to the kennels."
Thirty-two dogs represent 15 kennels in the 660-yard series. Miller said the favorite is defending champion Flyin Bridgeport, winner of the Flashy Sir Award (best distance dog) and All-America team member. He is one of five finalists from the 2007 event, joining Phenomenal Dream (second), Greys Touch Gold (third), Greys Blak Smith (fifth) and Flying Midnite (eighth).
Flyin Bridgeport has clocked four of the track's top 10 times at 660 yards but was sidelined for a month by a toenail issue that surfaced in February at the Naples-Fort Myers Derby in Bonita Springs. McAllister's three entries — 2006 Tampa Derby winner Turbo Penske, Flying Midnite and Flyin Bridgeport — have won only six of their past 31 combined starts.
"If (Flyin Bridgeport) is back in form, he'll be hard to beat," Miller said. "The Classic will be a challenge, because dogs will be required to run five races in 2½ weeks."
An accumulative points system will be used with 16 for first place to zero for eighth. The field will be cut to 16 after Wednesday. Qualifying continues March 29 and April 2 with the final April 5. First place pays $32,000.
MORE DOGS: Flying Stanley, winner of the Rural Rube Award (top sprinter) and All-America team captain for McAllister, is second in qualifying entering tonight's fourth round of the Hollywood World Classic at Mardi Gras Racetrack in Hallandale Beach.
TAMPA BAY DOWNS: Trainer Dale Bennett has a personal-high 27 wins at the Oldsmar thoroughbred meet. Dynamic Wayne has proven to be his top horse.
The 3-year-old Eltish bay colt gave Bennett his second career graded-stakes placing, with a third-place finish behind Big Truck and Atoned in the Grade III $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 15. Dynamic Wayne, a 49-1 shot ridden by Pablo Morales, lost by 4½ lengths in a race that saw previously undefeated War Pass finished last among seven horses.
"It was a blast," Bennett said. "The adrenaline rush we got when they turned for home — I knew War Pass was struggling, and the move (Dynamic Wayne) was making — you can't beat that."
Dynamic Wayne was fourth to Fierce Wind in the $200,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 16 at 64-1 odds. The Illinois-bred is out of Dynamic Way. Michigan's Wayne Bessler owns both horses.
Bennett got another big effort on Festival Day from Prosico, who finished second to Lookinforthesecret in the $75,000 Turf Dash.
Friday's sixth race produced a record payout in the 10-cent superfecta, $38,169.08. Pattysbuddy, at 5-1, won, with Quibble's Coyote second at 142.7-1 and Mr. Chocolatte third at 92.9-1. A Splash of Tour rounded out the superfecta at 4.3-1.
SALE: Fierce Wind was sold to Halsey Minor by Four Roses Thoroughbreds for an undisclosed amount, trainer Nick Zito told the Daily Racing Form. He will remain in Zito's barn and will run in the Grade I $1-million Florida Derby on March 29 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
EASTER SCHEDULE: Derby Lane will be open Sunday, but Tampa Bay Downs and Tampa Greyhound Track will be closed.